Louisiana’s Way Home

9780763694630  The openng lines of Kate DiCamillo’s new book for middle schoolers – Louisiana’s Way Home – reminded me of a resolution I have yet to complete:

“I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatver happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will have an answer. They will know.”

I usually avoid reading memoirs, assuming the writer’s memory will have been embellished and cleaned up. But writing my own story for posterity is appealing, especially because I could embellish and clean it up. What has been stopping me? Probably the suspicion of my story being only interesting to me.

Louisiana’s story begins with the curse her grandfather set in motion; mine would mirror it with my grandmother’s power of bestowing a curse, passed through generations.  Be assured, I have not tried wielding her power – not consciously, anyway – and not yet.

Louisiana’s story is “discovering who you are – and deciding who you want to be.”  For fans of DiCamillo, Louisiana may bring back thoughts of Raymie Nightingale, and Raymie is mentioned, but Louisiana has a more compelling story, leaving her friend behind in Florida and starting over in Georgia with a new friend, Burke, who can climb trees and outsmart the vending machine to get free peanuts.

After Granny and Louisiana drive off for a new life, so much happens: Granny loses all her teeth, tells about finding a baby on a pile of rubbish, and deserts the twelve year old. Nevertheless, Louisiana’s steady and optimistic outlook leads her to a new family, a new life, and a happy ending.  The story is at once a sad lesson in hope and a caution to not wallow in fate.  Destiny is what you make it.   Louisiana is abandoned by someone she trusts, tries to work things out on her own, consults with a minister, and finally chooses forgiveness with a new family.   Burke’s grandfather sums up the point of the story when he tells her to  “Take what is offered to you.”

The curse?  Turns out Louisiana never really had one –    only Granny has to contend with that problem.

And DiCamillo delivers another poignant tale of a brave little girl who gets the support of friends from unlikely places and in unexpected ways.  We all need that now and then.

Related ReviewRaymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

9780763681173_p0_v1_s192x300 Kate DiCamillo abandons her animal friends and creates an unlikely heroine in her newest book Raymie Nightingale.  At first I was disappointed in the trio of ordinary young girls who become friends one summer.  Where was the brave mouse of Desperaux, the china rabbit with a soul in Edward Tulane, the typing squirrel in Flora and Ulysses.

Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana find each other at a baton-twirling class; all are planning to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition and each has a reason for needing to win.  Unknowingly, the three have more in common than the contest; each is missing a parent or two and not only trying to cope with the loss, but also yearning to get back to what was before.

Although Raymie never does learn how to twirl the baton, she channels Florence Nightingale from the book her school librarian gave her for  the summer, and finds she can do the extraordinary – save a friend from drowning.  With the help of Beverly’s street smarts and Louisiana’s flighty sensitivity, Raymie gets back her soul.

Animals do appear in the story – a yellow bird set free from its cage, a howling rabbit eared dog rescued from a dismal fate at the animal shelter, and Archie, Louisiana’s back from the dead cat – the unsung hero of the book.  DiCamillo uses them to underline the theme of loss and renewal.

DiCamillo delivers a poignant tale of little girls who are brave and hopeful, but the story is really all about the power of connection and the support of friends from unlikely places and in unexpected ways.  We all need that now and then.

Reviews of Other Books by Kate DiCamillo:

2014 Newbery Award Winner

Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Award again – this time with Flora and Ulysses.

Read my review below:

9780763660406_p0_v2_s260x420Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo’s newest contribution to wonderful children’s stories – Flora and Ulysses – involves the adventures of a young girl with a superhero squirrel.  When the squirrel survives getting sucked into a vacuum cleaner, he attains superpowers: he can fly, think (mostly about how hungry he is), type, and write poetry.  After a series of hilarious missteps, Ulysses saves the day and reunites Flora’s family.

DiCamillo combines humor with pathos as she targets the anxieties of Flora and her friend William, who are both suffering through changes in their families.  K.G. Campbell’s artwork adds to the story with cartoon frames interspersed into the narrative.  In this story, the adults learn the lessons of love, patience, and perseverance from the children, and, of course, from Ulysses, the poetic squirrel.

A book a child could share with a favorite adult – maybe even read aloud.

Other Books (reviews) by Kate DiCamillo:

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Flora and Ulysses

9780763660406_p0_v2_s260x420Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo’s newest contribution to wonderful children’s stories – Flora and Ulysses – involves the adventures of a young girl with a superhero squirrel.  When the squirrel survives getting sucked into a vacuum cleaner, he attains superpowers: he can fly, think (mostly about how hungry he is), type, and write poetry.  After a series of hilarious missteps, Ulysses saves the day and reunites Flora’s family.

DiCamillo combines humor with pathos as she targets the anxieties of Flora and her friend William, who are both suffering through changes in their families.  K.G. Campbell’s artwork adds to the story with cartoon frames interspersed into the narrative.  In this story, the adults learn the lessons of love, patience, and perseverance from the children, and, of course, from Ulysses, the poetic squirrel.

A book a child could share with a favorite adult – maybe even read aloud.

Other Books (reviews) by Kate DiCamillo:

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

A Newberry winner twice over,  with a long list of other literary citations, DiCamillo is my go-to children’s author when I need a little faith, hope, and magic.

Edward Tulane is a china rabbit with flexible arms and legs, who sees all (his eyes are painted open) and comments silently on the world around him.  His fatal flaw is that he thinks too much – of himself – and is unable to love anyone but himself.  He starts an amazing journey from the comfort of a well-appointed existence in the Tulane household to being thrown off an ocean liner and sinking to the bottom of the sea.  After his eventual rescue by a fisherman, he is buried in garbage, saved by a dog, travels with hoboes, and works as a scarecrow.

Along the way, he is adored by a cast of characters who dress him, speak to him, hold him, and love him.  And Edward learns to love, lose his fears,  and eventually find his way back home.

Once again Kate DiCamillo has created a charming story with a strong message that never speaks down to her audience.

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